Tag Archives: Brooks Jensen

Not Fit For Public Consumption

Moon, Branches, Low Clouds

Moon, Branches, Low Clouds
Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado, 2015

I’m a regular listener of the podcast by Brooks Jensen over at Lenswork Daily, which always offers up interesting and thought-provoking episodes about the practice and appreciation of photography.  In the recent podcast titled “Just for Me,” he raised the notion that most photographers tend to produce at least some work that is purely personal, as opposed to that offered for public consumption.  He may have offered more than one reason for this – the one that sticks with me is the idea that photographers may hold back work that, for whatever reason, is thought to run the risk of not being well received by one’s audience.  The takeaway, as I understand it, is that this kind of thinking should be questioned, since the work produced that is personally meaningful to its creator also is likely to be the work invested with the highest degree of merit.

I agree with this point entirely, but what struck me the most is how much it missed the mark for me.  Personally, I make no distinction between personal work and work for public consumption, at least as near as I can tell.  My thinking is that if something is good enough for me, it’s good enough to share with the world.  Taking a different approach would be like drawing a line around some of my images and declaring them “not fit for public consumption.”  What I share with my images is more than just the photographs themselves, it’s basically a window into how I see the world.  To me, this is very much an “in for a penny, in for a pound” kind of proposition.  If I offer up one part of my work, there’s no reason I can see not to offer up it all.  Doing it any other way just wouldn’t make sense to me.

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Still At It

Cottonwood Trees, Two Stands

Cottonwood Trees, Two Stands
Near Greenland, Colorado, 2014

I started writing this blog in February, 2013, which means I’ve been at it for just about 2 1/2 years now.  I’m still doing it, and I plan to keep on doing it, but lately I’ve been asking myself why.

When I started this blog, the idea was that it would be about 1/2 an exercise in marketing and 1/2 an exercise in personal expression.  On the marketing side, my thinking was that having a website with a blog, wherein the content was updated about once every week or two, would provide those interested in the content with a reason to keep coming back, thereby driving traffic to my website.  On the personal expression side, I thought it would be fun not only to post my images, but to provide (hopefully) interesting remarks and observations to go along with them.  Personally, I really enjoy reading the blogs of photographers who regularly provide inspiring images and well-written content, and I hoped my website and blog might provide a similar resource for others, at least maybe in some small way.

In practice, neither of these goals seems to have to come to pass.  On good days, traffic to this website peaks only in the double digits, which seems kind of low.  Moreover, based on the paucity of comments and offline feedback, I don’t think this blog is getting much readership (although I really value those of you who do read it – thanks so much!).

So why do I remain committed to doing this blog?

I’ve been puzzled by this question, since, as mentioned above, this blog really is not hitting the goals I set for it.

A couple of weeks ago, though, I think I found my answer when I listened to a podcast by Brooks Jensen at Lenswork Daily.  The podcast was called “Your Next Deadline,” and the basic premise was that having a deadline to work under is a good thing because it provides motivation to get things done.  For photographers, of course, this means creating new work.

Now, I don’t have an actual deadline for this blog, but I do start to feel a bit edgy if I don’t get a post out about once every week or two.  I don’t know why, maybe I just like seeing the unbroken line of archived posts stretching back to 2013.  In any case, writing a post means needing an image to share, and needing an image to share provides motivation for me to create new work.

It’s as good a reason as any to write a blog, I suppose.  With any luck, it will keep me at it for the next 2 1/2 years.  If so, I look forward to seeing you in February of 2018.

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Process, Not Product

Black Trees Series 2, No. 1

The creation of art is the creation of failure.  These are not my words, I borrowed them from a podcast by Brooks Jensen at LensWork, with my apologies to the same for appropriating them for my blog.  Still, the sentiment behind these words has a certain universal applicability to it, and it is that sentiment that I would like to discuss a little bit here.  What person who has engaged in an artistic endeavor for a sustained period of time has not felt the sting of disappointment when the work just isn’t flowing well?

In the same podcast, Brooks related a story he himself had taken from the book of another on the topic of art (I forget the name of that book – if anyone can tell me, I’ll certainly add it here).  Briefly, a class of pottery students was divided into two, with one half being instructed over the course of the class to be concerned solely with producing one, perfect pot, and the other half being instructed over the course of the class to strive for making quality pots, but to be more concerned with producing simply many of them.  Who produced the better pot?

Perhaps counter-intuitively, it was the group that was focused on making many pots.  The practice of making pots over and over – of attempting, failing, learning, and trying again – ultimately pushed the second group up a learning curve that the first group didn’t have a chance to climb, because the first group simply was making fewer pots.  Stated differently, the process-focused group ultimately produced better work than the product-focused group.

There’s a lesson hereThe process is more important than the product.  If an artist is too focused on product, then the artistic pursuit is likely to be a slow, unproductive, and disappointing one, because after all, who among us always produces perfect work?  On the other hand, if an artist focuses on the process, then the work is likely to be engaging, satisfying, and ultimately better.  Moreover, a process-focused artist understands and is less deterred by the creation of failure, because failure is part of the process of making art.

The image in this post, “Black Trees Series 2, No. 1,” is the product of several failures.  Prior to creating this image, I had been working on several other images, trying approaches and techniques that ultimately were dead-ends.  While I’m certainly as susceptible to frustration and disappointment as anyone else, I honestly can say that I enjoy the process of photography and making images, and so I was able to keep working through my creative block by staying focused on the process, even though the product that I was producing in this period wasn’t very good.  The image here likely wouldn’t be what it is without having had the benefit of my many failed attempts at producing other images along the way.

And to anyone who may be struggling through a rough spell, I say remember to enjoy the process and don’t be too concerned about any individual product.  Art is supposed to be fun, and after all, we’re all only as good as the sum of our failures.

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In Defense of Photographic Opportunism

Snowy Spring Pastoral, Loveland, Colorado

What the heck is photographic opportunism?  Well, mostly it’s a couple of ten-dollar words to describe a two-dollar concept, but let me explain.

Many of the photographers I admire are advocates of working in groups of images on a single concept or theme – a series, a portfolio, or whatever.  Probably the one who comes most immediately to mind in this regard is Brooks Jensen of Lenswork magazine.  The whole premise of Lenswork, after all, exactly is to publish these kinds of series and portfolios.  It can be a little intimidating, when so much good work done by so many great artists is being presented in this kind of format.

I love a good portfolio of photography, I really do.

I might even aspire to start working this way myself one day.

But that’s not where I am right now.  I’m an opportunistic photographer, and I take my images where I can get them.

There’s a pragmatic component to my thinking here.  Portfolios really take a substantial investment of time and effort to complete.  While I am dedicated to pursuing photography and committed to making time to practice it, it’s not my whole life.  The reality is I have a full-time day job as well as several other competing interests and priorities to handle.  While photography is important to me, most of the time it has to fit into the bigger schedule of my life and be pursued on a time-available basis.  This does not lend itself to portfolio-making.

There’s a technical component here too.  My impression is that many portfolios are undertaken by very experienced photographers, perhaps as a challenge to themselves, or perhaps to generate excitement when making high-quality single images becomes routine or repetitive.  That’s not where my mindset is right now.  I still find a camera to be an intrinsically exciting way to interact with the world.  I enjoy having it with me as a way to visually experience and explore many different kinds of environments in many different expressive ways.  If photography is a learning curve, then I’m still on it, and being open to capturing different kinds of subject matter and making prints in different kinds of styles is an excellent way to develop your skills.

Finally, there’s a philosophical component at play as well.  I’ve heard it said that to make your mark as a photographer, you should become known for one style of image, one kind of subject matter, one approach to prints, etc.  I agree that being consistent in your output will make you known for that kind of work.  But I disagree that consistently generating the same kind of output is required to become known for your work.  Good work is good work.  Think of Picasso, probably one of the most widely recognized artists in history, and the great variety of styles and subject matter his work spanned over his career.

The image in this post, “Snowy Spring Pastoral,” embodies a lot of these themes.  It was very opportunistic, in the sense that we had a quick spring snowstorm here in Colorado last week.  I had no particular plan or objective other than getting out to capture some images of snow, which I don’t do very often.  It also definitely was a learning experience.  Working with wet equipment (kudos to the Canon 5D Mark ii, by the way), getting compositions and exposures right in a driving snow, all added up to expand old skills and develop new ones.  Finally, this image arguably also is a bit of a break from my other work.  The snowy subject matter lent itself to a more high-key treatment than I usually do, and my composition included a mix of the man-made (the fence, the telephone lines) and the natural (the tree, the snow) that I otherwise don’t tend towards as much with landscapes.

So am I troubled that I’m not producing portfolios of work on single subjects or themes?  Not at all, I’m an opportunistic photographer.  That’s just where I’m at right now.

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